When I was told that my son of 20 years who had gone missing almost two years previous, had been found murdered I experienced many emotions. I was extremely bewildered, felt anxious, was depressed and wondered if I had done something or not done something that may have led to it. I had trouble continuing to lead a normal life as I had no time to absorb or prepare for the fact that my world as I knew it had ended and I was catapulted into one I did not understand.
The death of one’s child is painful no matter what the cause but in sudden death the ability to cope is severely diminished. The sudden loss of a child puts the grieving parent into shock. This kind of loss is so terribly hard that recovery is more difficult due to additional complications. The complications are that the parents adaptive capacities and ability to cope are so severely hit that it leaves the grieving parents stunned and overwhelmed.
There is no gradual transition time, no time to steady or ready or prepare yourself. Sudden death places you between the way you thought your world would be with your child still with you and the way the world now is. Your beloved child has died without even a warning. This totally disrupts your ideas on what is to be. It disrupts your beliefs in the world and of one’s own control in it. When a loved one’s impending death is known ahead of time these issues are also dealt with but the difference is that they have had a valuable time period to place the death in the context of events that were predictable and made sense. Even though they experienced pain they could see what caused the death. They more than likely were given the opportunity to prepare for the death and to deal with their feelings about it. They were given the opportunity to say I love you, to say good-bye and to do the things they wanted to do for their child before they died.
There are many emotional demands and problems with any type of death of a child but at least when the death is known ahead of time the grieving parents have been able to focus their coping abilities towards the expected outcome. For instance a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness, even though the parents still must struggle with the craziness of their child dying out of order or before them it still is logical that when anyone at any age is stricken with a terminal illness the outcome is most likely death. So the loss makes sense of a sort.
When a child dies suddenly the loss does not make sense. There is no logical sequential explanation of what has happened that prepares them somewhat for the death. The sudden death leaves the parents so stunned that they have a hard time even comprehending what has happened. Accepting that the death even occurred is often difficult, and often takes quite a bit of time. Parents will find themselves going over the story of the accident, suicide, or murder trying to make sense of the loss after the fact. Because they were not prepared for the death and it had no understandable context, they will try to deal with their lack of anticipation by putting the loss into a series of events. They may find themselves looking back at the time leading up to the death and searching for clues that could have indicated what was to come. For example, I remember trying to piece things together to figure out why my son was murdered, who had he been spending time with? had he made anybody angry enough to kill him?, did he owe anybody money? was he involved in anything illegal? For me the answers were no and after repeatedly trying to make sense of the loss I still could not. I found that sometimes people are in the wrong place at the wrong time, sometimes people trust the wrong people, sometimes the saying “It is what it is” is all there is to explain it.
This did not stop me though from trying to restructure the sequence of events by looking back in time leading to his death so I could feel a logical progression, a control and predictability and looking back some sense in what had happened.
Holding yourself responsible however I found can lead to problems such as guilt. For example I felt that maybe I should have paid more attention to what he was doing in college and who he was with there. Knowing this I thought maybe could have prevented it. Eventually I rationalized though that when your child of 20 years is in his 3rd year of college 4 hours away and you see him once every few months it would be impossible and unhealthy for you to keep tract of everything your child did and who he did it with .
The grief symptoms for parents experiencing sudden child loss tend to last longer and be more intense. In addition to dealing with feelings of loss and grief a parent is trying to understand what has happened to them and is trying to cope with their drastically altered world. These parents have not only the same job as all mourners , but they also must cope with the extra stresses that leave them relatively more worn down and disadvantaged.
Losing a child suddenly gives us no chance to say good-bye, no chance to tell our child how much we love them or how much they mean to us. This cause a lot of pain as we feel a sense of unfinished business. We long for a chance to tell them things, apologize for things, explain things or simply let them know what they meant to us.
Parents who lose their child suddenly seem to talk of their shared loss of security and confidence in the world. We have been taught a dramatic lesson: Loved ones can be snatched away without warning. What is to prevent another similar loss from occurring in our future we may think. Avoidance and anxiety eventually can lead to states of anxious withdrawal since the world has become such a frightening, unpredictable place.
The consequences of losing a child suddenly in some ways can last a lifetime. For some parents this is evident as chronic grief, or persistent anxiety where security and confidence never totally return. For other grieving parents the consequences are less dramatic though still powerful. An example would be my friends who have not lost children when faced with a spouse or child who is late in coming home will reason they have been held up by traffic or some other logical explanation and not worry unless they are terribly late. Me on the other hand when faced with the same scenario will assume something terrible has happened. I experience a lot of stress and have to mentally self talk myself out of the assumption and into a more logical non-disaster explanation. Newer grieving parents to this may jump at calling the hospital or police. After grief recovery coaching I learned to tell myself that the odds are on my side that everyone is ok and there is a reason for their tardiness. I am however concerned. I have experienced having a child snatched from me without warning and found that this sort of thing does not always happen to other people.
With coaching though I learned that this awareness can also be turned into a positive:
- I now make time for and prioritize my family and friends differently.
- I do not put things off or wait to say important things to those I care about like I may have in the past.
- I do not want to have unfinished business with anyone important to me because I now know that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow.
- I now tend to live in the moment more relishing the small things I used to overlook in my hurry to get things done.
- I choose my battles better and don’t get caught up in stupid matters that are trivial now realizing that my energies can better be applied to things that truly are worthy of my time and energy.
I appreciate life more now that I have experienced such a traumatic thing. I did not chose this to happen but what I did find was that I could choose to pull something positive and meaningful out of such a tragedy.
Peace & Light,
Certified From Heartbreak to Happiness Coach
“Who then can so softly bind up the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself?”